Women and Work—What Will It Take to Land More Key Positions?

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

Women have long been making an impact on the world of work. The number of women in the workplace surged during World War II, of course, when companies had signed contracts with the government to produce war equipment for the Allies—and the men were deployed overseas.

Women came to the rescue, and in the decades since have been taking the employment world by storm.

Our numbers continue to increase each year. In 1984, 44 million women were in the workforce. By 2009, there were 72 million. And with this increase have come more opportunities for women to assume managerial positions. While we still aren’t equally represented in every C-suite, or in government, our numbers are growing.

So what will it take for more women to make their way into those key positions?

In her new book, Society 3.0—How Technology Is Reshaping Education, Work, and Society, author Tracey Wilen-Daugenti says: “Higher education in the U.S. has traditionally prepared students for work and social success, but with families, work, and society itself undergoing revolutionary change, is this preparation sufficient to develop the 21st-century workforce?”

The vp and managing director of Apollo Research Institute knows that evolving family structures, new ways of balancing work and personal lives, and rapid technological advancements are transforming the ways that U.S. colleges and universities develop well-educated, career-oriented citizens.

“In ‘Society 3.0’ we help higher education providers and industry leaders understand these potentially disruptive variables and design appropriate programs and career paths for tomorrow’s workers,” she shares, noting that the book presents and explores the impact of the shift in college attendance. A wider range of family members, not just older children, now attend college, a decision that shapes—and is shaped by—21st-century demographics.

Older students, recognizing degrees as vital for competing in the global workforce, are now on track to outnumber those entering college before starting careers, Wilen-Daugenti explains. “Today’s workers are increasingly likely to be women, working outside the office or self-employed, or applying their education to innovation and entrepreneurship as small business owners.”

She also explains how women are making a profound impact on how business is done.

Wilen-Daugenti ((pictured right) believes women are game changers because they:

  • Bring more intuition into the workplace
  • Add increasing levels of collaboration into the workplace, which results in more “win/win” situations
  • Are more open to and embrace diversity in the workplace
  • Are more in tune with work/life issues in the workplace
  • Have stronger networks in and out of the workplace
  • Help each other in and out of the workplace

The last two points really hit home for me.

I have had wonderful female mentors in my business career and now, as a small business owner and consultant, I am so grateful for my network of strong women colleagues.

We support each other in so many ways. We share resources, ideas, leads with each other. We listen to each others’ concerns and issues and only give advice when it is requested.

In my HR consulting practice, it is clear that women are making a significant contribution to the business world—and the country, in general. Each organization that I am working with is headed by a strong, dynamic woman leader. These women are talented, smart, dedicated, and passionate about their work. And, I am proud to support them with their HR issues.

This is a highly exciting time for young women to be entering the business world.

I hope they know to never underestimate their potential to make a difference.

Each of us brings different skills to the workplace, so celebrate your talent and seek out mentors to guide you in your career. And be a mentor yourself when you can.

So much of what we read about women in the workplace is negative, but the reality is, we are making a difference and our role is only going to increase as we move forward into this century.


About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR. Click here to buy the book.